Diotima of Mantinea

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Jadwiga Łuszczewska, who used the pen name Diotima, posing as the ancient seer in a painting by Józef Simmler, 1855

Diotima of Mantinea (/ˌdəˈtmə/; Greek: Διοτίμα; Latin: Diotīma) was a philosopher[1] and priestess circa 440 B.C.E. who plays an important role in Plato's Symposium. Her ideas are the origin of the concept of Platonic love.


The name Diotima means Zeus Honor, either in the active sense of a woman who honors Zeus, or in the passive sense of a woman honored by Zeus.[2]

She was said to be from the Peloponnesian city of Mantinea, which allied itself with Sparta during the Peloponnesian War. The Greek form of this place, Mantinike, notably appears to contain the root "mantis", meaning "prophet, seer", and strongly suggests that Diotima was herself a prophetess, or at least somehow associated with prophecy. Diotima Mantinike thus would sound like "Diotima from Prophet-victory". Socrates provides additional significant information for his fellow symposiasts about Diotima Mantinike that hints at her victorious prophetic powers.[2]

Since the only contemporaneous source concerning her is Plato, doubts have been raised about whether she was a real historical personage or merely a fictional creation; however, nearly all of the characters named in Plato's dialogues have been found to correspond to real people living in ancient Athens.[3]

Plato was thought by most 19th and early 20th century scholars to have based Diotima on Aspasia, the mistress of Pericles, so impressed was he by her intelligence and wit. However, Aspasia appears under her own name in Plato's dialogue Menexenus, and some scholars have convincingly argued that Plato did not use false names: therefore, Diotima could be a historical figure.[4]

A bronze relief circa 340 B.C.E. depicting Diotima and Socrates, as well as writings from the second through the fifth centuries A.D., refer to Diotima as a real person. The suggestion that she was a fictional creation was not introduced until the 16th century, probably based on the fact that she was a woman.[1]

Role in Symposium[edit]

In Plato's Symposium the members of a party discuss the meaning of love. Socrates says that in his youth he was taught "the philosophy of love" by Diotima, who was a seer or priestess. Socrates also claims that Diotima successfully postponed the Plague of Athens. In a dialogue that Socrates recounts at the symposium, Diotima gives Socrates a genealogy of Love (Eros), stating that he is the son of "resource and poverty". In her view, love is a means of ascent to contemplation of the Divine. For Diotima, the most correct use of love of other human beings is to direct one's mind to love of Divinity.[5] The beautiful beloved inspires the mind and the soul and directs one's attention to spiritual things. One proceeds from recognition of another's beauty, to appreciation of Beauty as it exists apart from any individual, to consideration of Divinity, the source of Beauty, to love of Divinity.

Relief of a woman holding intestins probably Diotima of Mantineia Arcadia

Influence and use of name[edit]

"Diotima" has often been used as a title for philosophical or artistic projects, journals, essays, etc.:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Mary Ellen Waithe. "A History of Women Philosophers: Volume I: Ancient Women Philosophers, 600 BC–500 AD". Retrieved November 17, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Evans, Nancy. "Diotima and Demeter as Mystagogues in Plato's Symposium." Hypatia, vol. 21, no. 2, 2006, pp. 1–27. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3810989.
  3. ^ Ruby Blondell The Play of Character in Plato's Dialogues, Cambridge University Press, 2002, p.31
  4. ^ Wider, Kathleen. "Women philosophers in the Ancient Greek World: Donning the Mantle". Hypatia vol 1 no 1 Spring 1986. Part of her argument focuses on the point that all scholars who argued "for" a fictitious Diotima were male, and most used as a starting point Smith's uncertainty of her actual existence (Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1870).
  5. ^ Plato, Symposium, 210a–212b


  • Navia, Luis E., Socrates, the man and his philosophy, pp. 30, 171. University Press of America ISBN 0-8191-4854-7.
  • Evans, Nancy. “Diotima and Demeter as Mystagogues in Plato's Symposium.” Hypatia, vol. 21, no. 2, 2006, pp. 1–27. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3810989.